Thursday, July 14, 2011

I picked up this lovely Faber Selected Poems of Thom Gunn and Ted Hughes at a bric-a-brac table today. There is something so very comforting about returning to these (not so) old poetries. This gorgeous collection cost all of 45p in its day, has the odd student analysis notes pencilled in the margins and, most importantly, it has that lovely library booky smell about it.
I enjoy deciphering the pencilled notes and smiled at the "terrible punctuation" comment signed by one unimpressed Jim Scott at the end of Hughes' 'November' poem!

The selection of poems were picked by Gunn and Hughes themselves which makes their choices interesting. Hughes of course adds his characteristic 'The Thought-Fox', a poem I've never really cared for. Everyone knows the story behind it of course, and how important it was to Hughes' writing but is it really a great poem in itself? I can put with it for 'The Horses' though:

"Not a leaf, not a bird, -
A world cast in frost. I came out above the wood

Where my breath left tortuous statues in the iron light.
But the valleys were draining the darkness"

In saying that, the first edition of this Selected was published in 1962 so I guess Hughes would have had a much smaller repertoire to pick from at that point.

Never read much of Gunn before but I was intrigued by the very first poem in this collection, 'The Wound':

"The huge wound in my head began to heal
About the beginning of the seventh week.
Its valleys darkened, its villages became still:
For joy I did not move and dared not speak;
Not doctors would cure it, but time, its patient skill."


James Owens said...

I love used bookshops (but who doesn't?) and reading the marginal notes and inscriptions in old books. "For my beautiful Hildegard, at the beginning of our great love" -- and then you try to imagine how Hildegard came to unload the gift for a few pennies as used merchandise....

I admire Thom Gunn's early work, a poet of true formal power in the '50s and '60 (at some interesting pivotal distance between Auden and Larkin), before he came to the US and became sloppy and self-indulgent. I would say that he was one of those poets for whom confinement, both formal and social, results in better poetry (though it can sure be destructive for the life of the poet).

As for early Hughes, I agree that "Horses" is a better poem than "The Thought-Fox," though I can see how that poem was important. "Hawk in the Rain" and "The Jaguar" are very fine poems in that first book. In his second book, also pre-1962, I've always had a personal fondness for "Mayday on Holderness," though I'm not sure I could make any persuasive defense against other, better known poems in that book. Still, "the nightlong frenzy of shrews"!

Marion McCready said...

yes he picked 'The Jaguar' for it though interestingly not 'The Hawk in the Rain' or 'Pike' which is probably my favourite Hughes poem (that gorgeous "green tigering the gold").

as for the comments, I'm trying to imagine what on earth he means by 'Hey!' which is written next to the underlined Gunn line "But I am being what I please" ('The unsettled Motorcyclist's Vision of his Death')!

The comment at the end of Gunn's 'On the Move' - "...steinbeck found the valley and he wrote about it the way it was in his travellings with charlie. Jardine"!

Ahh just realised the commentator was probably referencing quotes rather than signing his name as 'Jim Scott' :)

Roxana said...

ah yes what a delight to read the notes in a book - i am now reminded that i haven't had it for some time now, i am envious - nothing like this to start a reverie about possible lives, one of the things i like best :-)
(though always tinged with melancholy, too, this reverie)

Marion McCready said...

yes, I'm sure you can tell a lot about a person by how and what they leave in a book...:)